Monday, August 03, 2009

Dark Dominion Part 13...

Here we go again…

Hi Guys

I couldn’t believe it, as once more I found myself on a flight to New York, but this time there was a real difference, I really was missing my family and I was only just getting on the plane. The Christmas holidays had been so lovely, especially after being away for so long in 1993 it was hard to come to terms with going out there again, despite having so much fun working out in NYC.

When I landed on the other side of the pond the guys warnings to me, over the phone, of the change in weather were not unfounded it had been snowing heavily and it was freezing to, although to someone living in my neck of the woods, it wasn’t that unusual. I do remembering one of the first things to occur to me with the sudden shift in the weather was; how was Charles coping?

The first feelings I had upon arriving at Defiant was that things in the office seemed much different. Maybe it was me, as I was finding it hard to come to terms with being out there again, after such a short time with my family and one, which was so enjoyable for us all too, but I felt it was something else, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Only a couple of weeks had elapsed since I had left but with all the books suddenly late on deadline again Ron Zalme, ex-Marvel comics, assistant production manager, had been brought in and I sensed an unease in the office.

First night there the guys wanted to take me out to an Irish bar with the gang, as they could see I was having a particularly hard time of settling this time around. Now I have to admit to having worries over the troubles in Northern Ireland at the time and me with my so obviously English accent too, so I mentioned it, but was reassured it would all be fine. Luckily for us all they were right. I had just watched, whilst back home in England a news documentary regarding the relationship with the Irish in New York and the troubles in Northern Ireland. My experience in the bar showed the programme may have gotten it a little wrong.

The bar was a strange place to a guy from the UK with our quintessential English pubs. Firstly there was the seating, which was more like a diner then a pub then there was the service, not by going to the bar, but by ordering with a waitress…from a menu!

I checked out the menu and the only thing I saw in pints was Heineken, so I ordered one of those. Now this was the first time he had heard of pints of beer for Joe, so he asked what they were like. I told him it was just lager served in pint glasses. So the group all followed suit and ordered pints of lager.

Well as I have said before in these Defiant Blogs, my mates there didn’t drink, or at least couldn’t hold any amount of drink, without nearly falling over, so suffice it to say the guys were soon falling over and laughing aloud and making my night as they did so. I think had they not taken me there and had me laughing, I may have asked to be on the next flight back home the following morning.

Below: Pages from Dark Dominion Issue 5

Page 1
Page 13
Page 23

The first Friday I was back in New York we saw 18 inches of snow fall in as many hours. This was followed a day later on the Saturday with a further 24 inches on top of this.

I had left in complete sunshine and returned to see NYC snowbound in my first few days back out there. It was incredible and beautiful at the same time.

No longer could the Empire State Building be seen across the way from the front office windows, as snow billowed about the mighty building. Traffic ground to a halt for a few hours and then the snow ploughs came out in force and pretty soon, despite the snow still continuing to fall, the roads had been cleared enough for vehicles to move once more.

What remained were huge mountains of snow at the sides of road, creating a barrier between the sidewalks and the roads. What happened next was holes began to appear in the walls of snow, wide enough to walk through, which were dug by the proprietors of the shops and delis and the staff of hotels and businesses and the residents of hotels and apartments, so that it was possible to cross the roads again once more. It happened quite naturally and without question, with the resident New Yorkers just getting down to business and getting the job done. It was quite amazing to see.

One major difference I saw between the snow in NYC and back home here in the UK was that it never actually goes slushy like in the UK once it began to thaw a little. It simply seemed to go like a foam-like substance.

It was in these first few days that Joe came over to me. He was still working on the pencils to issue five. He told me he had spoken to Jim for a few of weeks now and he had decided to leave the book to pursue the job as head of production in the office. He had mulled it over during the Christmas holidays (no pun intended) and decided he could no longer do both and decided to stay on staff, rather then freelancing as a penciller.

I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed with this, although I was happy for Joe, with his new position. I just felt it was a shame as we had just gotten used to working together and were doing things with the book that were different enough from the other Defiant books to stand out from the rest. I had no idea who was to replace him as penciller and truth told they were still looking.

One day towards the end of Joe’s tenure on the Dark Dominion book, he came to me with the top panel drawn, and as he was working from a plot with the stories he asked what he could do with the scene, which was basically a fight scene between Michael and one of the creatures from the Dark Dominion.

I looked at the drawing in the top panel and saw something straight away, which I thought was amusing, but never expected Joe to take serious. The tentacled creature holding Michael seemed to be pulling him towards its many-toothed maw, and there in the centre was a tongue licking its way towards the hero.

I told Joe it would be neat if Michael could just break free of the creature’s grip, turn and grab hold of its tongue and then pulling the tongue pull the creature completely inside out…that’s what Joe did and the page can be seen here with my fight scene suggestions.

The weeks went by pretty quick and then one Sunday evening as I spoke with Janet the office phone rang, so I went across to answer it. It was short and direct; I was asked if I would tell the rest of the guys there that Jack Kirby had died. I still cannot remember who called and even back then I couldn’t tell Janet who it was, I was just shocked. I had never met Jack or spoken to him, but it felt as though I had lost someone close to me. In a way it was, as I had grown up reading the comics, which he had both written and drawn. He was the reason I wanted to draw comic books for a living.

I remember telling Janet and Joe and the other guys there. The strange thing was usually on Sundays I was pretty much on my own now as, the policy had changed and I was now the only freelancer allowed to work in the offices, after normal working hours, unless someone was working directly with me on a book, so it was unusual that a few other guys were there with me at that moment.

I was not going to have the chance to say thanks to the King now, but I immediately rang the guys organising the Comics Conventions in the UK and told them all about Jack’s passing and asked them if they had room in the convention booklet for a Kirby Tribute illustration from me. I was given the go ahead and promised to send something off soon. The offices were a sombre place to be for a few days then, but the atmosphere was soon to change once more.

It was within this first few weeks into my return to the offices that we saw proof that all the books were beginning to slip into total chaos. Changes were made, the first of which was a cost cutting one, as the soft drinks ran out and were not replaced. The next was a freelancer ban, which in effect meant I was now the lone freelancer in the offices after six o’clock at night, unless I specifically needed someone there with me on certain pages due to a close deadline between inks and colours. This now added to the loneliness I felt during the small hours, which even the occasional burger order at four in the morning did little to satiate.

Photos: from the first day back in the offices after the New Year in 1994

Big Jim Shooter, Me, Mighty Joe James
Joe and I
Joe and I in Central Park

It was during this time that Ed Polgardy asked if it would be okay to have another lodger with me in the apartment, it was to be Len Wein. I was over the moon and called my best friend Paul later that day, to tell him, after I had called Margaret and the kids. Paul, like me, was a great fan of Len and Berni’s Swamp Thing comic from the early seventies and the writer of the said book was going to be my roommate for a week.

New York was still covered in a blanket of snow and I remember going back to the apartment early, as Len was due in around 8 o’clock that evening. So armed with a page or two from issue five I walked back through the snow to the apartment. I decided to grab something to eat on the way home, which I would eat at the apartment. So I bought a couple of slices of Pizza from across the road from my apartment and sat on the couch eating them, along with a cup of tea, as I waited for Len to arrive. This time I had taken some of my own tea bags along for the trip to NYC and boy was I now living it up.

It was around eleven o’clock at night and I was working on a couple of the pages of issue five when there was a loud knock at the door. I checked through the little viewing port on the door and sure enough, dressed for all the world like Tom Baker’s Doctor Who, was Len Wein, even down to the hat, large over coat and over-long scarf.

He came in and we introduced ourselves. I showed him to his room next to mine and he took his suitcases inside and quickly unpacked. He came back in and asked if I had eaten and I told him I had had a little something earlier, to which he asked if I could possibly manage a sandwich and accompany him to a sandwich bar he knew, as he was famished.

I told him I would love to join him and could easily manage a sandwich. Now by now you would think I was savvy enough with New York and its cuisine to realise that even a sandwich could prove fatally large, wouldn’t you? Well I wasn’t, although I like to think it was due to being in the presence of one of my hero writers.

Anyhow off we went through the snow-laden streets of New York to a sandwich bar called Carnegies on Seventh Avenue on the corner of 55th. I have to admit to have never heard of the place before hearing its name from Len, but it was a great place to visit, straight out of a fifties film, with its décor. It had photographs of all the film stars, pop and rock stars; in fact its walls were covered by a veritable who’s who of the world s of show business.

Len ordered a sandwich and whilst he did I decide between a burger and a Frankfurter. I decided on the sausage, as I had already eaten earlier, boy was that a mistake.

Len’s order came first and it was humongous. I honestly can’t remember what it had on it, although as it stood about ten inches off the plate, held together by two huge skewers (I kid you not) it is probably safer to say what it didn’t have on it was not worth bothering with. It looked like it had come straight out of a Scooby Doo cartoon.

My Hot Dog arrived, or at least that was what I was expecting to see on my plate. Instead a foot long Frankfurter, which hung off the plate on both sides was placed before me. We ate for what seemed like hours, and it gave Len and I time to get to know each other. It was a wonderful evening and was, I suppose, a precursor of the events of the rest of that week, or as I like to remember it the adventures of Len and his video recordings of the soaps.

Len is a great fan of the daily soap operas in the USA, or at least he was, as he liked to watch them for character studies. He did like all the soaps, as well and would set the remote recorder for several shows. He was very adept at this and I marvelled at his abilities with a VHS machine, which back home I struggled to set for one program, even when it was one I was also watching, whilst it recorded.

That first evening we retired to bed around 4:30 a.m. I arose around 8:00 a.m. and arrived in the offices around nine o’clock. Len arrived around mid-day and went straight into Jim’s office at which point they both came out and went to lunch. I was to get very little sleep that week not because of the workload, this time, but because of soap operas, as the TV and VHS was in my room, which was the largest room in the apartment and also doubled as the living room.

So it was that with blurred eyes and a fatigued back that every evening from around six in the evening until around three in the morning that I sat and painted at the apartment desk until Len had watched his episodes of that day’s soaps. I had always thought my wife was the ultimate soap fan, until I met Len. One evening, during his stay, I pencilled and inked the Jack Kirby tribute sketch for the UKCAC convention booklet, which I would send off via Fed-Ex the next day.

Gradually throughout the week I became more and more tired. More so than if I had worked at the offices all week with little sleep. The biggest difference for me though were the wonderful chats I had with Len, whose company I enjoyed immensely during his stay and whom I admit I really missed when he left to go back home to California, although I honestly didn’t miss the soaps.

No sooner had Len gone than it snowed again and this time it happened so fast and so incredibly strong that Ed Polgardy found himself trapped in the city with no way to get home, as his two hour train journey back home was not going to happen, as the tracks were impassable, so the trains were snowbound and stopped for the duration of the snowstorms.

So it was that I was then joined for a couple of days by Ed, who found himself in a similar situation to the one I had found myself in the previous year, when I had no clothes left and was asked to stay longer. The snows didn’t stay long though and the storm soon blew itself out and soon I was alone in the apartment again and with each successive persons departure so too my homesickness got worse.

Joe and I had not seen as much of each other as we had before, despite still working in the offices, as he was always busy with the production and I was working on the books. We did chat, but not in the same way as when we working so closely together and maybe Joe felt like I did about that. Suffice it to say one morning just before lunch he came over and said, some on let’s go out, so we did. He took me down to the Wall Street area and to the Twin Towers, which were unbelievably massive. He told me he had been meaning to bring me to them, for ages.

We stood with our backs to the glass wall of one of the towers and stared up between the two. I noticed an optical illusion. As we looked up the buildings seemed to get closer, as one would expect with perspective, but then the towers splayed back apart towards the top. I still wonder whether this effect was due to the movement of the towers at the top, as they swayed a metre or so at the very top to stop fatigue literally cracking them apart. Joe said he had done this so many times and had never noticed it before.

One of the main highlights for me during my stint at Defiant in 1994 was going along to the New York comic convention at the Javits Centre. The convention was the biggest I had ever been to and was just a fantastic experience. The Halls were huge, the stands were fantastic spectacles, and representing Defiant was an incredible experience.

The convention was the first I attended where the comics companies had official folks dressed up as their superheroes and as was Jim’s wont, no expense was spared on the Defiant stand, which comprised of a huge walk in Plasm world and a life-size glowing Michael Alexander. It looked absolutely magnificent and was the talking point of visitors to the convention. It stood out a mile with it’s all singing and dancing light arrangements, which gave the stand an eerie glow.

I walked around the convention and saw lots of original artwork and some great looking books. I decided against buying any artwork, something I figure I maybe should have done, now looking back, especially the Jack Kirby pieces, which were still affordable at the time.

Most of my time at the convention though was sitting between Chris Claremont and Joe, sketching and signing comics for the fans, which I thoroughly enjoyed. There was a fleeting moment where a few of us spoke to Gil Kane and I wish I had spoken to him more than I did, but I have to admit to feeling in awe of this legendary comic artist, despite him being a complete gentleman.

Whilst there at the convention I also met up with fellow Brit comic artist Dave Taylor and, knowing he was looking for work with the American comics companies, I introduced him to Jim, who gave him an offer of work. I remember Dave being so excited and the work he produced for them was fantastic. We were to work together on what would be my last work for Defiant later in the year.

Charles offered to come around again for a while as a room mate, as to quote him he just got bored of working alone and, since I had no one living with me at the time, he thought that he would come down and work with me during the day, although he knew I was feeling a little down still with being away from my family again.

It was true I was going through a patch of homesickness and the office wasn’t the wonderful inviting place it had been some months before and it was becoming less inviting with the lawsuit having drained resources and also reports of quite low sales, as against those anticipated, coming into the office, but, as I have said before, we were heading for a complete and utter implosion of comics in the US and the UK following the speculator boom of the early nineties, which gave a false impression of the actual number of comics sold for real, so the sales were probably a true reflection of what the anticipated sales figures should actually have been.

I have spoken to Charles recently and he helped me to recall that the office had a fit over Charles coming around, as if he was trying to "get away with something", when in actual fact he was instrumental in keeping me happy there in the States, when I really wanted to be back home with my family. He really was a rock for me back then and helped keep me relatively sane, to which I am still eternally grateful.

The one thing to remember was the weather had been great when I was out pre-Christmas, but these last few months had been simply winter weather and downright awful, which helped keep an air of melancholy about the office for me.

Charles added that he thought it was rather bizarre behaviour, when they kicked off about him staying over during the day, but with the low sales and the leaking money from the lawsuits, he thinks that they were really paranoid at that point. It seemed strange to me, when they were paying for the apartment for me anyhow and it had more than one bedroom and up to then Charles had stayed over, as had, Charlie Adlard, Len Wein, Ed Polgardy what was the difference with Charles now once more staying over during the day, when I had a spare room, even if he worked late and wanted to stay over until the morning, which he didn’t? The trouble was, Jim was away at the time and I was unable to speak to him about it.

I am sure none of the editorial staff, if I am honest would have stayed on their own for so long, and certainly not without their loved-ones, so surely they could understand why Charles was helping me along. All I can say is thank goodness that some folks are empathic to other’s feelings.

I have to say here too, that the organisation of the office staff hierarchy for me was instrumental in all of this too. As Jim spent less time at the office and more and more time out at conventions, promoting the company and also giving his seminars on comics’ storytelling and there was a shift in management, so too the other external events were taking place with the speculator market.

Add to that the late books, freelancers starting to disappear from the ranks, and the writing was on the wall for an enormous crash of sorts. Looking back, as the changes in the office took place, perhaps Defiant needed its leader more then ever, but Jim was trying to attract new readers and the way to do that at the time was through conventions and seminars.

This for me was a worry, as I saw the ship begin to flounder, without its rightful helmsman at the wheel.

But I’ll share that in my next Blog.

Until next time have fun!

Tim Perkins…
August 3rd 2009


Magnus said...

Your post at Dave's board answered what I also wondered about. Regarding that post: I look forward to continue reading your feelings until the end.

You should have bought that art :-) I slowly started buying art myself around that time and I feel that the value of having items from the creative process is more important than the monetary money (thus I only bought cheap stuff back then :-)).

I wonder how different collecting is for a professional in the business? What for me is a unique insight is something well-known for you. Then again, some of your writing has the feel of a fellow fan (on top of the professional perspective from behind the scenes).

Enough rambling... take care.

Tim Perkins said...

Hi Magnus,

Because of the restrictions on how much we can write in comments, please find a second comment below this one, in answer to your questions:

Nice to see you here again.

Yeah, a lot of folks have been asking me about that and I kept directing everyone to these later Blogs.

Yeah, in hindsight I really should have bought at least one Jack Kirby piece, but I may find something one of these days, who knows.

Collecting, as far as the comics go for me personally, is like this. I love them to death but I don't bag them or have backing boards or any such. I have a lot of them archived away from the studio, itself, which is a shame, as I don't look at them that much really, but they are there if I do. Besides I haven’t the time nowadays.

The studio contains lots of my favourite comics, graphic novels, trade paper and hard backed books, art books and novels. They are all easy to get at and the comics and magazines are in comic boxes, but only for ease of storage, not to protect them.

I do try to keep them as tidy copies, but not at the expense of reading them, which is the reason I collect them and indeed write and draw them for others to do the same. This is what is important for me, as a comics creator.

Back in the day comics used to be a disposable commodity for the kids and the adults who continued to buy them, which is ultimately why they continue to be collectible, because of the low numbers of good copies still in existence. Whereas nowadays the books are kept by the fans and so who else is there to collect them, unless the comic(s) in question are in short print runs and become sought after.

You guess right when you say there is still a little of the fan in me. I guess everyone in the business is a fan to some degree. I love the way we are able to tell stories in a quite unique way, as opposed to Film and TV, novels and kids books, etc. But I am not obsessed and never have been, unlike a lot of comics fans, with how many rings Cap’s shield has or how many characters have changed identities and took on the mantle of Goliath, or with the convoluted continuities, which I feel stifle comic books today.

That said if I was to draw Cap’s shield then I would have to check to get it right, if that makes sense. Comics for me are both a great past time and also a business and I use different heads for the different aspects, as and when they arise for me, either as a reader or a creator.


Tim Perkins said...

Hi Magnus,

Here is the second part to the comments in answer to your questions:

I still get the same buzz out of comics nowadays as I did as a kid, but the difference for me is the way we see them displayed in the comic shops. Back when I was a kid we had them on spinner racks here in the UK and the shipping of them from the States was sporadic at best. We may get issue 23 of any given title and then some years later number 7 and number 10, which for me added to the fun of searching them out and completing my collection. I remember collecting Jack’s fourth world series like this and yet still making sense out of them, something I have discussed with others of a similar age to me, and older, who didn’t get Jack’s work at the time.

That said I buy more collections as hard backs nowadays and I am trying to get hold of some European titles at the moment too. I don’t frequent comic shops as much as I did, but that is down to a combination of the workload with Wizards Keep and also with having to look at a sea of product, which all looks the same and, which has so many multiple titles.

There can be any number of Spider-man comics, to use him as an example, and I have to ask myself, which is the series I want to check out, is this a mini series, and questions of that ilk. The problem is, if, as someone working in comics, I am asking these kinds of questions, what chance is there of a new reader staring to pick them up, with no jumping on point?

I see the same thing happening with graphic novels being displayed en masse with their small spines only, showing.

I have a few Blogs set for writing this year, which address these kinds of issues and which I hope you’ll check out when I publish them here, so I won’t say more here at the moment.

One thing I will add is in connection of your mentioning of the “unique insight” aspect of comics. I have to admit that I like to read how other comics creators think of these questions, just like you as a fan do. It makes for interesting reading at times and can make you think either, yeah I agree, or wow I never thought of it like that.

Hopefully that has answered some of the questions.

Thanks again for dropping by.


Magnus said...

Thank you very much. You just defined what collecting comics should be about. Sounds like there will more interesting blogs in the future!

Tim Perkins said...

Hi Magnus,

Thanks for that.

Glad you agree with what collecting should be about.

As creators we want as many folks to read the work as possible, or at least I do.

I hope you enjoy the forthcoming Blogs.

There are a variety coming up with a current one with my little mate Bentley Bogtrotter, a look at the production methods I used for the Markosia Cover, more Hot Wheels, and a look at keeping original artwork which will all see publication over the next couple of weeks.

Then I plan on writing some of the stuff already mentioned.

So I hope you stick around and let me know what you think.

Until then...